Study evaluates soldier load weights

The Pentagon has launched a new study to figure out how much soldiers and Marines should carry, and the tradeoff between the gear they carry versus speed and mobility.

Officials awarded a grant through the Navy Health Research Center to a Massachusetts research professor to determine the consequences of load and armor on a combat soldier’s ability to perceive and respond to threats.

Although a soldier’s weight carrying capacity has been studied before, Richard E.A. van Emmerik, with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said he hopes to break new ground.

Instead of studying the impact of load on a soldier’s gait and lower body, “we will for the first time look at how the upper body, trunk and head coordinate in a soldier who is burdened by a heavy load, which is a fundamentally different and a more complex situation,” van Emmerik said in a statement.

The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group teamed up with Johns Hopkins University in 2009 to conduct a soldier load assessment in Afghanistan to find out what would happen when you shaved 20 pounds off of the typical soldier load that averaged more than 100 pounds.

A battalion’s worth of soldiers were equipped with lightweight armor plate carriers, packs, boots and other equipment to assess how lighter loads increase soldier mobility and effectiveness in combat. The effort led to the Army selecting and fielding a new plate-carrier as an alternative to the bulky, heavy-weight Improved Outer Tactical Vest.

Van Emmerik is a professor of kinesiology where he studies human movement. The $975,000 study, which will take 2 1/2 years, is called “Effects of Armor and Load on Action-Perception Coupling.”

“Gait is just the beginning. We’ll introduce a visual search task and track the coordination of upper body, postural control and visual acuity,” he said. “No study has yet added all these, plus other factors, together in a realistic way to look at how load affects the soldier’s ability to perceive threats, his or her operational effectiveness and survivability in combat.”

Researchers already know a great deal about load and locomotion, stamina, oxygen use, energy use and so on, Van Emmerik said. His study will expand to look at whether load affects reaction time, visual attention to critical details and the ability to discriminate friend or foe, he said.

The plan calls for van Emmerik and his team to recruit trained infantrymen to be study subjects. They’ll be tested with no load as well as with loads ranging from 70 to 120 lbs.

The initial goals of the study are to gain insight into the relations that allow soldiers to survive in realistic situations and to develop a means of comparing the consequences of different load configurations on soldier survivability.

What’s learned from the study will also apply to firefighters, rescue workers and others who have to sacrifice perception and mobility in order to gear-up against threats.

–Bryant Jordan

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • STemplar

    Based on my layman’s observations of various firefights it seems to me what dismounted soldiers need most in almost every video I see is better ways to locate where fire is coming from. Not that lightening the load isn’t a good idea, its just as I watch videos of Stan and old newsreel footage from WW2, the same issue is there. “Where is the mother fucker shooting at me?”

    • Chris

      they already field this type of technology on FOBs and convoys… a squad-portable system would be ideal though.

      • STemplar

        Right, I’m aware of boomerang. I don’t just mean a directional system, although that would be better than nothing. They are making these semi autonomous wheeled robot sort of things to go with dismounted troops. How about some kind of high res motion camera system that can pinpoint a window shots came from and what not. Might as well mount a CROWS type mount as well with a little extra firepower. Just seems like if you’re able to tell more easily where the person shooting at you is, probably need less munitions/weapons to deal with contact. That should save weight.

    • I’d like to see the heartbeat sensor from Call of Duty on an M4 too!

      Seriously, though, this is a good point. They could implement a HUD that uses sensors to collect and process biometric and acoustic data. This is a great project (save a lot of wear and tear on grunts), but a live and tired soldier is better than a dead one.

    • steve

      STemplar, please Re-Read the article again, and hen look at your comment??? Field of vision is your concern, okay, but the article IS NOT ABOUT FIELD OF VISION…… I see an attempt to prevent bone stresses, and back failures, along with feet problems, ALL due to the EXCESSIVE weight required in the field for each Trooper???

  • marc

    Summary:
    soldiers carry too much = reduced mobility and combat effectiveness.
    soldiers carry too little = higher mobility, less combat effectiveness
    soldiers carry just enough = good mobility, good combat effectiveness.

    where’s my grant money?

    • majr0d

      Very Wise.

    • Robert Fritts

      Marc, first change your name to Marlena Hernandez. from 2006 thru 2011 data HIspanics are much more in vogue at the SBA and DOD. Same data shows grants to african americans are trending way down. But grants and contracts to women owned businesses are never out of season. Go ahead and lie on your grant applications everyone else does. It would also help to hire a spanish speaker to do all of your government contacts thru a government translator, no speeky engliish, Money!

  • Foo

    You’ll get your money as soon as you can quantify those

    • majr0d

      Combat Load – minimum mission-essential equip (determined by CO responsible for mission), req to fight immediate combat ops. There are two levels of combat load: Fighting & Approach March load.

      Fighting Load – Mission essential items needed for close combat normally incl wpns, worn clothing, helmet, load carrying equip, ammo basic load. Should not exceed 30% of body weight.

      Approach March Load – Load carried in addition to the “fighting load”. Includes items needed for extended immediate combat ops (including sustainment loads). Should not exceed 45% of body weight.

      Emergency Approach March Loadsv – Circumstances could require soldiers to carry loads heavier than 72 pounds such as approach marches through terrain impassable to vehicles or where ground/air transportation resources are not available. Loads of up to 120 pounds can be carried for several days. If possible, contact with the enemy should be avoided since march speeds will be slow.

      Where do I get my check? Well not really, it’s from FM 21-18 Foot Marches.

      • tmb2

        “Loads of up to 120 pounds can be carried for several days.If possible, contact with the enemy should be avoided since march speeds will be slow.”

        Happy National Airborne Day!

  • mpower6428

    the answer will be the same as always…. 16 tons.

    • 101stEagle

      And what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt…

  • S O

    “studied before” is an understatement. The issue was basically settles prior in late 19th century studies and the oldest considerations of infantry equipment weight were IIRC written in Latin!

  • Rob

    I am confused by this because any assault operation should include many of our soldiers and resources. This so called force multiplier. Why is mobility really a concern.

    Front man should be fully armored ad have a backup of medium armored soldiers with ammo.

    Any stationary unit should also be just fully armored and have a vehicle and call-in backup.

    Also should be a low grade armor for limbs just for shrapnel protection. May not stop a bullet but maybe that hunk of metal flying through the air. Or is Kevlar really enough?

    The future is definitely in exo-skeletons, drones and robots for load carrying.

    Sometimes just need think differently as well. If really in a remote area, pull the civilians out and bombard the location, enough said.

    Chased a bad guy into an old building? Call in an airdrop for a drone bulldozer.
    Any building to rebuild is still cheaper then any life lost. Bombs just destroy. Dozers make piles of material

  • Peter E. Hawley

    When I went to Iraq in 2007, I wore the Interceptor Body Armor vest.. I wore two ceramic plates, one in the front and one in the back. The vest ended up weighing fifty pounds. At one point I tried wearing the two additional side plates. These plates added an additional twelve pounds to the vest. My back pain was so severe, I had to go on sick call. The normal pain level with just the front and back plates was a three or four. When I added the side plates, my pain level went to eight or nine. I realized, I was no longer able to do the job of a soldier and at 47, I decided to ETS.

    • Rob

      I’ve seen harnesses that disperse weight to your waist. Probably could be adapted for body armor.

      Seems you could have requested change of duties to something that requires less back work.

      • tmb2

        “Seems you could have requested change of duties to something that requires less back work.”

        He did, he left the Army. He wasn’t doing “back work” he was standing still just wearing the gear. The biggest loss of man-hours in Iraq and Afghanistan is back injuries mostly from wearing our gear. When soldiers leave the Army, the fact that they will report chronic knee and back problems is assured. The IOTV has a cummerbund that takes a little bit of the pressure off, but you’re still wearing a 60 pound vest for hours at a time.

  • jim

    Its the same with us brits, you save some pounds here and there then they come out with something else to carry, the infantrymans load will always be in excess be it with extra kit which is often traded for more ammunition!!

  • ltfunk2

    o amount of load lightening will stop a soldier who is fighting for subsidised housing and a guarenteed pension in a war he dosent understand from turning turtle.

    This is just another one of our thousands of studies of the losers. Time to do a study of the winners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the obviously know something the losers dont.

    • blight_

      What do they know? An insurgency usually wins with nation-state support, moreso with nation-state sanctuary that can secures their supply areas and provides indefinite manpower.

      Done.

  • CS_Raynor

    A typical infantryman load has always been 70-80 lbs throughout the ages, going all the way back to the Romans. Any amount of weight reduction, while maintaining protection is going to improve the ability and health of the warfighter. However, in saying that, those same warfighters are going to look at it as, “Gee, I’m 20 lbs lighter, I can carry more ammo.” It’s going to have to come from both directions, reducing gear weight and education.

    • blight_

      The comparison of a supply-train dependent force and a light infantry force (or “flying column”, to use the old terminology) that has to carry all of their own gear isn’t exactly a fair one. A legion also had a fair-sized supply train, though I doubt it was the ~1:10 tooth:tail that we see today.

      Because resupply in the field cannot be met with JIT logistics, you have to carry everything you need, then determine what you can get away with leaving behind.

  • BRASS

    Retired after a career of heavy mental and physical activity my mind and body were inversely affected as one would suspect. While my problem solving and practical skills are sharp, anything more than carrying the groceries is a problem. –

    Thousands are like my example: After decades of back problems and now after my second minor back surgery just this week, it doesn’t seem to me that it should take a lot of sophisticated study to understand and recognize the base problems. Maybe refining and filling out that knowledge base will serve to understand the margins where operational compromise is apparent but the results of weight bearing, shock and injury in general are well known. –

    I hope they temper their research and the resultant changes with common sense beyond what laboratory conditions can tell them.

  • Mastro

    Maybe wearing clothes might make the tests a bit more realistic.

  • Jimbo

    SLA Marshall already did a study on load vs combat effectiveness (The Soldier’s Load and The Mobility of a Nation (1950)).

    Why is this being done again? The main issue is that once a piece of lightweight equipment is issued, some officer thinks that there is room for the next piece of lightweight equipment, and the next piece, until we are back to square 1 – overloaded.

    So many good concepts have been ruined over the years because of overloading (motorcycles for AirCav Recon elements, dune buggy’s, even Bradleys and HMMV’s have been overloaded). I would wager that these bozo’s could wreck a wheelbarrow with the “next great idea”.

    Apparently, they never heard of combat trains for all the extraneous equipment and supplies.

    • Joe

      Beat me to it. The Soldier’s Load and The Mobility of a Nation should be required reading for EVERY soldier from basic trainee to CJCoS. If only for the simplicy and solution oriented vison presented.

    • Mastro

      SLA Marshall – while having many good ideas- played fast and loose with the facts- its been well documented.

      Not saying he was way off (never read this work) – but a fresh analysis 62 years later is certainly warranted- especially with all the new tech we have- and better way to measure its effectiveness.

      • majr0d

        Mastro – SLA Marshall is just one reference. There have been well over a couple dozen studies done on the soldier’s load (I’ve listed links to about four this decade alone). This is not fresh analysis.

  • Salisbury Marine

    …As stated elsewhere… None of this is going to count for anything if company grade officers can’t make the final call. Squad leaders should be able to inspect each pack to make sure that only what is needed on *that* mission is taken along. But so long as higher command gets to make the call…

    …Part of it is political. Body armor? A trade-off… If you are on convoy duty, then you need the whole load… But if you are chasing insurgents (who are wearing jeans, sneakers, and only carrying AKs and spare mags) up an alley, then you are wasting your time…

    …But if somebody on that patrol not weighed down like an EOD man defusing a bomb and he gets zapped… then his C.O.’s career may be toast… So CYA is forced on the troops rather than a value trade-off…

    …Tactical requirements should govern the call… but in areas where we are not engaged in heavy combat… lighter armor has another plus… Right now, to uneducated villagers we must look like Imperial Storm Troopers from Star Wars… By itself not a reason to armor down… but if the conditions are right…

  • monk

    The first time i went to afghanistan i would put on every time we went out on foot patroll 128lbs. vest , 240B,full combat load , CLS bag, water, full combat load ammo, 9mm +full load ammo, How do i know how much it all weighed i went to the med clinic and got weighed with and without the equipment. now you tell me about mobility. everything sounds good on paper but does it laways workout in real life????? NO

  • blight_

    I suspect a lot of are skimming. I went back to re-read.

    A few fun points:

    Although a soldier’s weight carrying capacity has been studied before, Richard E.A. van Emmerik, with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said he hopes to break new ground.

    Instead of studying the impact of load on a soldier’s gait and lower body, “we will for the first time look at how the upper body, trunk and head coordinate in a soldier who is burdened by a heavy load, which is a fundamentally different and a more complex situation,” van Emmerik said in a statement.
    […]
    Van Emmerik is a professor of kinesiology where he studies human movement. The $975,000 study, which will take 2 1/2 years, is called “Effects of Armor and Load on Action-Perception Coupling.”
    […]
    Researchers already know a great deal about load and locomotion, stamina, oxygen use, energy use and so on, Van Emmerik said. His study will expand to look at whether load affects reaction time, visual attention to critical details and the ability to discriminate friend or foe, he said.

    The plan calls for van Emmerik and his team to recruit trained infantrymen to be study subjects. They’ll be tested with no load as well as with loads ranging from 70 to 120 lbs.
    //

  • Tiger

    Why does this require $975,000 & 2 1/2 years to study? The Army has a 100 years of data & studies in a box some place.

    • Salisbury Marine

      …You’re right that they have a lot of info… but a lot of junk mixed in with the nuggets. Until the 1970s some officers believed that you could “…train troops to go without water…” for long periods… Like going without air… not going to happen… though you can train troops in water management and how to avoid wasting…

  • Robert

    idiots, you better be using those NEW harnesses transfers wight to hip

  • cowichan

    I am amazed. Looking at photos I would swear even US soldiers come in assorted sizes and shapes. But you are all designed to carry the same weight of gear?

  • Defilade

    They have been looking at this since WWI and know the ill effects mentally and physically of an overburdened soldier still the soldiers load has gotten heavier and heavier the only constant is tough realistic training to ensure survival and victory these military industrial bigwigs and think tank generals should just stop wasting taxpayer dollars on these studies they can look at the problem til they’re blue in the face and it won’t do anybody any good unless move out of the lab and do something where the rubber actually meets the road

  • Porkupine

    At this rate, it won’t be long until some sort of terrestrial drones are being deployed along with, or instead of, infantry. The whole situation looks like a losing proposition in asymmetrical warfare (where US lives mean more than Enemy lives). Seems like it takes the joy out of fighting.